The HTC U11+ is priced at Rs 56,990.
It is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, and comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.
The 12-megapixel single-camera setup is devoid of tricks, but gets the basics right.
Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC has been through all kinds of ups and downs. The company started out in 1997 as an original equipment manufacturer, eventually moving on to the business of making its own smartphones under its own brand name. Few people will remember that the world’s first Android smartphone was the HTC Dream; the Taiwanese company had bet on the world’s most popular mobile operating system way before anyone else.
HTC had some great years and revolutionary products, including the brilliant HTC One (M8), a phone I used for over two years. Unfortunately, the HTC of 2018 is a shadow of its former self. It’s products aren’t as well received as they once were, and the premium smartphone space that HTC now occupies is dominated by Apple, Samsung, and OnePlus. However, last year’s HTC U11 showed that HTC still has something left to offer.
A part of HTC’s smartphone division has since been acquired by Google, and this leads to uncertainty about how HTC smartphone will be going forward. For now though, we do have the latest offering from the company – the HTC U11+. Priced at Rs 56,990, the HTC U11+ is undoubtedly priced very high, taking on the absolute premium segment dominated by Apple, Samsung, and Google’s Pixel series. Does it offer enough to justify the price, or will you be better served by devices for any of the premium brands? Find out in our review.
The screen is the biggest and most important change in the HTC U11+. The phone has a 6-inch quad HD+ 18:9 aspect ratio screen, which is bigger than the screen on the HTC U11, and features the taller aspect ratio as well. As I’ve said before, smartphones that don’t adhere to the new taller aspect ratio look and feel dated, and are almost definitely not worth investing in, considering its 2018. Fortunately, HTC does have this covered, and the sheer resolution of this makes it sharp as well.
What is disappointing about the screen though, is the technology behind it. The HTC U11+ features a Super LCD6 screen, which simply isn’t as capable as the AMOLED or P-OLED screens we’re used to seeing on premium devices. Most flagship smartphone makers have accepted and adopted the use of OLED screens on their devices, and the difference in colors, black levels, contrast and vibrance are all fairly straightforward. HTC’s use of an LCD screen is questionable, as such.
That said, it is a bright screen, achieving a peak brightness that is visibly higher than on competing AMOLED screen devices. The quad HD resolution also shows its sharpness on the larger screen to some extent, although it may have been better if HTC had gone with a full HD+ AMOLED screen over the quad HD+ Super LCD screen it has opted for. The colors are fairly accurate, but aren’t quite as exciting as I’d have hoped for.
Design you either love or hate
Despite fitting a larger screen into the form factor of a classic 5.5-inch phone, the HTC U11+ isn’t even compact as you’d expect it to be. It’s large, slightly bigger than the similarly sized and specified OnePlus 5T, and feels a bit blocky thanks to its combination of metal and glass. While the frame is metal, the back is a glass plate. The glass at the back is a polarizing choice; a lot of people might prefer the clean appearance of brushed metal, but many like the reflective styling of glass. Nonetheless, it’s a grime magnet that you’ll find yourself often cleaning to keep the phone looking neat. A useful feature is that the phone is IP68-certified against dust and water, so you can safely dunk your phone in water or under a running tap (we don’t recommend you do it for no reason, though).
The overall blocky and bulky nature of the phone don’t exactly help its aesthetic appeal, but that’s just me. My colleague Sambit thinks the HTC U11+ looks particularly good thanks to its design language. The rest of the phone’s layout is standard, with the USB Type-C port at the bottom, hybrid SIM slot at the top, and power and volume buttons on the right. Although the non-screen space at the front is considerably less than on the HTC U11, it still feels a bit too much, and the phone doesn’t quite offer the appeal that most 18:9 screen devices do.
Top spec, great software
If there’s one thing HTC does not spare cost on, it’s making sure that its flagship devices are top-spec and future-ready. The HTC U11+ is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, along with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. You also get Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, VoLTE on 4G supporting all major bands in India, and a 3,930mAh battery with support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 and a compatible charger included in the box. Charging is relatively quick, taking about 90 minutes to fully charge the large battery of the phone. The phone runs Android 8.0 Oreo with HTC’s popular Sense 9.0 UI on top. There’s no 3.5mm jack, but you do get USB Type-C active noise cancelling headphones in the box.
In terms of performance, the HTC U11+ is flagship level through and through. You’re unlikely to face any performance issues with the device, thanks to its top-end hardware and software. HTC Sense UI is also tuned for boosting performance, and doesn’t have any issues with stability. Additionally, the 6GB of RAM on the phone will keep things running smoothly in all situations, especially multi-tasking and quick resumption of apps from the background. The hardware and software work together to give you a level of performance that is on-par with both the Google Pixel 2 XL and the OnePlus 5T, which are currently the best performing Android devices available.
The phone doesn’t have anything fancy for biometric security either. While competing devices feature iris scanning and face unlock, the HTC U11+ relies only on its rear-positioned fingerprint scanner. It is quick and accurate though, although the large size of the phone and the smooth glass back make it a bit tricky to find the sensor even after muscle-memory kicks in. Coming to battery life, the HTC U11+ will give you a full day of battery with moderate use, but there’s no visible advantage to the large battery beyond keeping up with the power needs of the phone and its 6-inch QHD+ LCD screen.
HTC Sense UI has always been among the better interfaces on top of Android, but in recent years, some of the closer-to-stock options such as Oxygen OS and Motorola, Lenovo and Nokia’s near-stock UIs have been preferred by performance-driven users. The heavy customization and user-friendly features on MIUI and Samsung Experience also appeal to a lot of users and aren’t quite as bloated as they used to be. While Sense is still excellent, it isn’t quite the best anymore.
Its focus on performance is appreciated, but Sense 9.0 doesn’t look quite as attractive as easy to use as it used to. A lot of manufacturers are now going with Google’s standard apps as default, so it’s a bit surprising that HTC still relies on its own apps for contacts, email and messages. Those apart, there isn’t much bloatware on the device. You also get support for Boomsound, HTC’s Blinkfeed for news aggregation, and an on-device personal assistant called HTC Sense Companion.
The assistant app is barebones at best, and indeed sent me more notifications relating to its machine learning than things that actually mattered to me. It would occasionally do things in the background such as optimizing certain apps based on my usage, but it usually only gave me pointless reminders or asked me to set 5:30AM alarms on public holidays because it thought they were events that I needed to go to. I found it more of a disruption than anything else, and Google Assistant is indeed a much more capable option if you want an AI assistant on your phone.
Similar to the feature on the HTC U11 and Google Pixel 2 duo, the HTC U11+ also features the squeeze gesture. Pressing down on the sides of the phone in a squeeze-like grip will activate a personalized function on the phone, which functions even from the lock screen. You can adjust the pressure sensitivity and even set different responses for a long squeeze and short squeeze, such as trigger Google Assistant, starting the camera, taking a picture, or setting in-app functions for a handful of popular apps. It’s an interesting function to have, but not one I used too much beyond the occasional quick start of the camera. Speaking of which…
With the exception of performance which is top-notch, nothing else on the HTC U11+ has stood out thus far. Fortunately, in true HTC fashion, the company has got one of the most important aspects of the phone right – the camera. However, to be clear, it hasn’t got it completely right either. Let me elaborate.
(Camera samples shot on the HTC U11+)
The HTC U11+ has a single-camera setup. That’s right, this is a smartphone that costs Rs 56,990 that has a single-camera setup. If that single-camera setup could do what a dual-camera setup does like the Google Pixel 2 duo, I wouldn’t have had a reason to complain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do any of that. There’s no depth-effect to the pictures, wide-angle photography, lossless zoom or true-monochrome effect here; the camera of the HTC U11+ takes plain vanilla pictures and video.
However, it does both of those things very well. The phone has a 12-megapixel f/1.7 aperture camera with large 1.4-micron pixels at the rear, and an 8-megapixel front camera. Videos can be recorded at up to 4K resolution, as well as up to 120fps slow-motion video and 60fps smooth recording at full HD resolution. There is dual-tone LED flash at the rear, and 5-axis OIS as well.
(Camera samples shot on the HTC U11+)
Just like on the Google Pixel 2 duo, photography on the HTC U11+ is excellent. Pictures are sharp, detailed, well-composed and good in all conditions. Low-light photography in particular is excellent on the HTC U11+, and on the whole, pictures are easy to capture thanks to OIS and excellent tuning. A lot of this capability can likely be credited to HTC’s partnership with Google for manufacturing Pixel devices, and the similarities to the quality and processing of the images on the Pixel 2 duo are evident.
In low-light conditions, you’ll find an incredible lack of grain in the images, with the HTC U11+ capturing all the right information without any issues even in poor light. And while there isn’t a dedicated depth-effect mode, proper focus has replicate the effect normally with the regular camera mode as well. And whether indoors, outdoors, in good light or in poor light, the colors, composure and detail is astounding. The same level of quality can be seen on videos and selfies. I would go as far as to say it’s hard to take a bad picture on the HTC U11+.
The HTC U11+ isn’t quite as complete a smartphone as many competing devices, and indeed there are some options that cost significantly less and offer more. The phone falls short in a handful of ways, including design, some shortcomings of the screen, software that has some mild flaws, and a camera that is devoid of tricks, and only sticks to the basics. All of this might have been forgivable if only the phone didn’t cost Rs 56,990; it’s an expensive phone that is unfortunately not perfect.
However, HTC fans will still have enough to love about the HTC U11+. With top-level performance, a decent user interface and a camera that gets the basics right and takes excellent pictures and video, the HTC U11+ holds enough appeal to justify its price to some extent. And while a lot of buyers might prefer the more rounded experience that the Google Pixel 2 XL or OnePlus 5T offer, the HTC is definitely a device I enjoyed using during my time with. So if you’re an HTC fan, want great performance and an excellent camera, the HTC U11+ is definitely worth checking out.
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